Healthcare is an intensely personal business. For innovators to succeed, they must seek out efficiencies without compromising the human touch.
ISA Lab, founded in São Paulo, Brazil during the pandemic, is one such innovator. Describing itself as a “100% digital lab,” ISA provides on-demand, home-based healthcare services, such as Covid-19 tests and vaccinations. This saves time and trouble for patients, while also reducing the strain on Brazil’s hospitals and other inpatient facilities.
“Here in Brazil, 70% of ER visits are unnecessary,” says Dr. David Pares, ISA Lab’s chief medical officer and cofounder. “Our goal is to do everything that can be done at home, at home.”
To instantly match available healthcare professionals with patients in need—roughly 300 per day, at present—ISA Lab relies on Connectly, a communications platform that brings business tools to WhatsApp. Patients can manage their appointments, follow-ups and other important exchanges without needing to download any additional apps.
Pares explained that, like people in many Latin American countries, Brazilians prefer WhatsApp to their providers’ messaging apps, which are often clogged with spam and even, he says, “propaganda.”
Where Connectly enters the ISA Lab-WhatsApp equation is in providing a back-end system where care agents can respond quickly to customer needs, to give just one example.
“We started using Connectly a few months ago, and it’s been super helpful,” Pares says.
To learn more about Connectly’s smart messaging platform, and how it helps ISA Lab deliver the best care, we spoke with Pares from his office in São Paulo.
Our conversation was lightly edited for clarity and length.
How does ISA Lab work?
We are a 100% digital lab. … We use an independent network of phlebotomists and nurses to provide on-demand at-home health services. Right now, we’re doing mostly blood analysis and Covid-19 tests. A patient goes to our platform, requests a service and we send someone to their house to perform the exam they need.
Why is this so helpful right now?
We were born in the heart of the pandemic when people were not leaving their houses. They didn’t want to go to doctors’ offices to perform blood analysis or exams. … Since we use an independent network, we’re flexible and we get to the patient’s house in roughly one hour after the request. … We also help patients who can’t go to the hospital. Maybe they’re restricted to their beds or they’re an elderly patient. … We not only solve for convenience, we solve for that, too.
Presumably it’s more affordable for patients?
We’re less costly than a regular ER or a regular clinic because we don’t have the infrastructure and the capex needed to do that.
What role does Connectly play?
Connectly automates a lot of our messaging, such as the appointment confirmation and when the phlebotomist starts their route to the patient’s house. When the labs come in, we send them a message reminding them how to access the results. … We also send mass communications to our network. For example, when a new feature is launched…we use Connectly to do that.
Before, we couldn’t. Basically, we had a WhatsApp account and only two people could use it. … Now we have a platform where a lot of people can connect and we can automate all of this stuff.
You don’t even have a mobile app?
We do, but almost no one downloads it. It’s easier to communicate through WhatsApp. If we need to field a survey, we message it. … The adoption is way better than any other channel of communication. … For instance, a survey that we send through email, 1% of people click it. Through [messaging], 20% of our patients answer the survey. Then we use all this information to improve our products and services.
You describe ISA Lab as a “100% digital laboratory.” It makes sense for ISA to incorporate smart messaging into your services. Should other healthcare providers follow your example?
Healthcare is not something that you use every day. You only use it when you need it. … I think the service is better if you don’t demand that your customer downloads your app. You can do everything through WhatsApp. It’s the only tool of communication that you take seriously, right? You actually open messages you receive through WhatsApp. … It’s also super-fast and we can use bots to automate some responses, so we don’t need people in most of our interactions.
You’re serving about 300 patients per day now. What’s your plan to scale?
We were born in São Paolo, the largest city here in Brazil, and we are now in six more state capitals. … Brazil is a big market, and we first want to tackle the largest cities, then roll out other services in our pipeline. Maybe, at some point, grow internationally across Latin America.
Healthcare is very personal. By automating so much of your patient communications, do you worry about losing the “human touch”?
At every point in the patient’s journey, if you need someone to talk to, we assign someone to talk to you. If you have any doubt, or you want to cancel, we assign a real person to talk to you.
You mentioned that before using Connectly, just two employees could use your WhatsApp account. How large is your staff today, and what do you expect in the future?
Now we have 12 people answering questions all the time. We work from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. On average, we have 12 people answering patients at the same time on WhatsApp. … We think that, even after the pandemic gets better, we’ll keep growing.